(A tribute to one of the most dedicated Muslim women of Belize)
Sista Sarita, as she was known in the Muslim community of Belize, was one of the pioneering members of the Nation of Islam in Belize during the 1960s and 70s. When the news came to me of her passing a week ago, there was a deep sense of sadness that engulfed me for a long time. She was a rose, and a beloved Muslim woman who had always treated me kindly, backed up by the friendly smile you can see on her face in this historic photo during her days as a Muslim who made a considerable contribution to Islam’s development in Belize.
Her name was mentioned constantly to me by the late Ismail Omar Shabazz during the days of the Los Angeles Muslims of Belize (LAMBs) of Los Angeles, California. My eyes were privileged to see Shabazz’s photo albums of the brothers and sisters who embraced Islam in the 60s and 70s. But the image of Sista Sarita stayed with me until my journey back to Belize in the 80s and 90s when I visited the Islamic community of Belize and met her for the first time.
Her warm, humble and pleasant nature stood out and reflected the modesty of Muslim women across the world. The Muslim community of Belize had departed its Nation of Islam experience and had come into a more orthodox Islamic doctrine of practicing the teachings of the Quran and the ways and teachings of the prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be with him). It was Imam Nuri Muhammad who led the Muslim community through its transitionary period, since he led the Nation of Islam in Belize in the 70s. He later guided the community through its growth, during which it transitioned from being the Islamic Mission of Belize (IMB) on Racecourse Street in the 70s to being the Islamic center on Central American Boulevard that is now headed by Imam Kaleem El-Amin.
To understand how these Belizean Muslim female pioneers like Sista Sarita stood the test of time and persevered with patience despite the odds, one has to know the history of the Muslim community that she came from. When I met her for the first time, the discipline and the spiritual values that she embodied as a Muslim in the Belizean “Nation” permeated her character deeply and reflected a hard work ethic. She was one of the Muslim women who cooked the food and worked in the kitchens for many of the Islamic festivities that had shone bright like a diamond across the Belizean culture in the 60s and 70s in Belize City, Belize, where the Muslims of Belize had established a proud and dynamic presence.
She was deeply involved in the Nation of Islam’s breakfast programs in the 60s and 70s that Brother Nuri Muhammad had established as one of Belize’s most prominent Islamic social workers and activists of the time. Brother Nuri also had shared the breakfast program with the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) prior to becoming the leader of the Nation of Islam. It was through an extension of the breakfast program at the Islamic Mission of Belize’s primary school, known as Muhammad School, that my work with Sista Sarita began.
When I returned to live in Belize City, Belize in 1999 and my two youngest children started attending Muhammad School, the work of Sista Sarita amazed and impressed me, as I saw her working in the kitchen upstairs of the school with less than the bare essentials. She was making breakfast and lunches for the poor children of the Port Loyola area who were coming to the school hungry and not having proper nutrition at home.
Being moved and touched by how she labored charitably for the cause of the school’s
development and gave of herself in the service of children and her Muslim community, and filled with admiration for her resolve, I immediately asked her to allow me to contribute. My work with her began after I spoke with the principal of the school and later the Islamic “Shura” (management) and asked for assistance in supplying the staple food items along with a deep freezer to store and preserve the food for the breakfast and food program.
It was such a rewarding endeavor that made me so overjoyed to be working alongside Sista Sarita and in one of the most peopled-centered and charitable Islamic programs that have contributed to the growth of Islamic communities worldwide. Islam was spread through trade and charity since the days of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). And everywhere in the Muslim world one goes, charity is deeply imbedded in Islamic programs which provide for the poor and the needy. The Port Loyola area of Belize is one of the most poverty-stricken areas of Belize. But Muhammad School, since its inception on Kraal Road and Racecourse Street in the 60s and 70s and later Central American Boulevard in the 80s and 90s, has been providing education and charitable programs to the needy of Belize City.
Without the dedication of these Belizean women like Sista Sarita who gave of themselves unselfishly for the sake of spreading the goodwill of God the Most-High on this earth, there would have never been an Islamic foundation that maintained its presence in Belize. She was Um (mother) and a willing worker to many Muslims and for the spreading of Islam’s light (Nur) among the poor masses of the Belizean people in the Belizean community in which she also lived.
May God the Most High forgive her faults and make her grave a spacious place of rest. May He reward her abundantly in the next life and place her among the ranks of the noble and blessed women of Islam.
(Photo through the courtesy of Imam Nuri Muhammad)